Project Based Learning

The backbone of Ypsilanti New Tech High School unique learning environment is Project-Based Learning. Instead of handing out daily assignments, teachers assign long-term, real-world projects with different components. Components of any given project may include a written essay and a digital project such as a website, PowerPoint presentation, or photo essay. Finally, students present their work orally to their classmates. Through the various projects students complete throughout their education experience at New Tech, students gain experience work individually, with a partner, or in a group, as they will upon entering the 21st century workforce.

The due dates for these projects are sometimes deceptively far away, forcing students to develop time management skills. At first, procrastination is the name of the game, but students quickly learn that if they want to succeed, they need to spread the project out over a period of time. In turn, teachers work as facilitators and provide pacing guides to ensure students attain the necessary time management skills successful adults utilize today.

One Leadership student writes eloquently of her experience in the new learning environment. "My old school was a "college prep" "school, and if what my college friends tell me is true, then I was prepared there. I was used to cramming information just to pass the next test, only to have it dissipate the next day as the information was no longer useful. So when I came to New Tech, my standards for learning changed quite dramatically. There was a bit of lecturing in my classes, but after the lectures we would be free to go do what needed to be done. In any other school, this would mean free time for fooling around. But at Tech High it meant getting what needed to be done, done. It meant working on projects and finishing assignments. I was amazed with how I wasn't the only one working on my group project, that my entire group did it. When you have independent learning, then the pressure is put on the individual to have the drive to learn. At most places it is just a passionate teacher trying to force the student to be interested."

Elements of a good project based learning experience include: 

  • A fertile open-ended question or issue that is rich, real and relevant to the students lives
  • Real world use of technology
  • Student-directed learning and/or the deliberate engagement of student voice
  • Collaboration
  • Multi-disciplinary components
  • Long term (more than 3 weeks) time frame
  • Outcomes-based, with an artifact, presentation, or action as a result of the inquiry
  • Project should be focused on making sure students are learning.

Students pursue solutions to nontrivial problems by:

  • asking and refining questions
  • debating ideas
  • making predictions
  • designing plans and/or experiments
  • collecting and analyzing data
  • drawing conclusions
  • communicating their ideas and findings to others
  • asking new questions
  • creating artifacts (Blumenfeld et al., 1991).